On a rainy evening in Salt Lake City thousands of people filed into the Conference Center Thursday, December 12, 2019, to attend the opening performance of this year’s Christmas concert.
Acclaimed Broadway singer and actress Kelli O’Hara and renowned actor Richard Thomas joined The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, the Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square for the 20th year of annual performances.
“The house [Conference Center] feels amazingly intimate for how big it is,” added Thomas, who is this year’s narrator.
Thomas, an Emmy Award-winning actor, is best known for his leading role as John-Boy Walton in the highly-rated television drama “The Waltons” (1971-1981).
“Our concert this year really reflects both of their remarkable talents,” said Mack Wilberg, music director of the choir. “They have been a delight and actually a dream to work with.”
“I think whatever faith you come from, beautiful music is beautiful music, and expressions of caring, humanity and of aspiration are all the same,” Thomas added. “It’s a kind of a program that will bring all kinds of groups of people together to appreciate it, have a sense of their own personal commitment to a better life.”
“Music is the great unifier,” agreed O’Hara, who was raised in Oklahoma. “I grew up singing in the choir at church and at Christmastime, always — and these particular songs — in a way that made me feel like that was my purpose.”
“It is a great blessing to the community here in the Wasatch Front for the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to provide a beautiful facility, turn the [concert] lights on, to have this type of quality and experience,” said Ron Jarrett, president of the choir.
In addition, the Grammy-nominated artist performed “A Cradle in Bethlehem” and “Baby of Bethlehem,” which celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Organist Richard Elliott brought the audience to its feet with his version of “Mashing through the Snow,” a parody of “Jingle Bells.” Elliott was joined by Cold Creek, a local bluegrass band.
As is concert tradition, Thomas narrated the Christmas story from Luke 2.
O’Hara, Thomas, the bells, dancers and trumpets joined the choir on stage for the traditional final song of the evening, “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”
Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, associate music director, are conducting the three nights of performances, titled “An American Home Christmas” and featuring music, dance, storytelling and visual effects.
The concert began with the choir and orchestra performing “Star in the East,” a 19th-century American folk hymn.
The choir, orchestra, herald trumpets and the bells combined their talents in a rendition of “In dulci jubilo,” a traditional Christmas carol. The trumpets were also featured in the “Hallelujah Chorus” from “The Messiah,” and the bells rang out in “Tree of Life.”
O’Hara’s first selections included “Mary’s Little Boy Child” and “Birthday of a King.” She also sang several show tunes written by composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, including “A Cockeyed Optimist” from “South Pacific,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from “The King and I” and “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music.”